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April 2, 2017 7:50 am

Israeli Olympic Medalists Yarden Gerbi, Ori Sasson Highlight Connection Between Judo and Patriotism: On the Mat, ‘We Are Fighting for Our Country’

avatar by Shiryn Solny

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Consul General of Israel in New York Dani Dayan, center, with Oren Smadga (corner left), Ori Sasson (center left), and Yarden Gerbi (center right) on March 28, 2017. Photo: Twitter.

Star Israeli judokas, both of whom won bronze medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics, told a gathering of American Jews in the Big Apple last week about the connection between their sport and service to their country.

“We are patriotic. We are fighting for our country. When we get on the mat, we know how to fight. It’s inside us,” said Yarden Gerbi, who, together with Ori Sasson, was addressing an audience at the headquarters of the UJA-Federation of New York on Tuesday.

They also spoke about the unsportsmanlike treatment they received on a number occasions as representatives of the Jewish state.

When Sasson beat Egypt’s Islam El Shehaby, for instance, the victor’s customary hand shake at the end of the match was refused – a gesture that resulted in El Shehaby’s being sent home.

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Prior to the match, El Shehaby was urged by anti-Israel fans on social media not to compete against Sasson.

“You will shame Islam,” wrote one angry follower. “If you lose, you will shame an entire nation and yourself. We don’t want to think what will happen if you lost to an Israeli. Victory will give you nothing. How can you cooperate with a murderous nation?”

In a separate instance, the Lebanese delegation to the games in Brazil refused to share a bus meant to take the athletes to the opening ceremony with the Israeli team. Subsequently, Saudi Arabian judoka Joud Fahmy forfeited her first-round match against Christianne Legentil from Mauritius, reportedly in order to avoid competing against Israeli contender Gili Cohen in the next round.

Consul General of Israel in New York Dani Dayan, among the guests in attendance at Tuesday’s event, posted a photo on Twitter he took with Sasson, Gerbi and Israeli judoka Oren Smadga, which he captioned, “My greatest personal sports achievement ever: a picture with three Olympic medalists.”

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